FIRE drafts a model “intellectual freedom protection act” for states

February 24, 2023 • 9:15 am

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is getting dead serious about opposing mandatory DEI statements, statements increasingly used and even required by universities for students applying for admission or candidates applying for faculty jobs.  By any sights, these statements are ideological litmus tests that have nothing to do with the purposes of higher education and everything to do with social engineering by those on the extreme Left.  Although many of us agree on the need to provide much more equal opportunity to minorities than now exists, it can’t be achieved by these pledges and pious asseverations.

Further, these are far from pledges to not discriminate à la Dr. King’s famous statement. Rather, they are used to judge academics’ philosophy of DEI, their plans to implement it in the school to which they belong or applying to, and their background in diversity-enhancing activities. This subverts the purpose of higher education in three ways. First, by chilling speech and forcing students and faculty to mouth adherence to a specific construal of DEI. Second, by diverting academia from its true mission, which is not to change society in line with current political views, but to teach students facts, to teach them to think, and to produce research.  Third, the statements divert resources from this mission into expensive, bloated and often hamhanded DEI bureaucracies, which in some large schools have dozens of employees and pay out millions in salaries.

DEI statements constitute illegal compelled speech, a violation of the First Amendment, and it’s just a matter of time before someone damaged by not producing the “right kind of statement” brings a lawsuit against a university.

Thus FIRE has announced a draft “intellectual freedom protestion act” meant to be passed by state legislatures. They announced it this way in an email:

There’s no getting past this: Many colleges are now considering or requiring diversity, equity, and inclusion statements for applicants, students, and faculty. DEI statements are consistently used as partisan litmus tests — imposed by campus bureaucrats needing to justify their paychecks. They often target controversial, dissenting, or simply unpopular voices. Consider these abuses of DEI rationales:

  • An art history professor out of a job for displaying medieval artwork depicting the Prophet Muhammad in her class. The president and vice president of inclusive excellence claimed that respect for Muslim students should have “superseded academic freedom.”
  • Pro-choice law students investigated by their Office of Equity & Title IX for disagreeing with a religious student about the leaked Dobbs decision.
  • A literature professor told by his associate vice president for diversity that it is unacceptable to discuss a racial slur mentioned in a recording of a Civil Rights Movement-era poem.

DEI bureaucracies cast a shadow over campuses, routinely violating student and faculty freedom of speech and conscience — regardless of their political ideology.That’s why FIRE crafted the Intellectual Freedom Protection Act, a model bill that can be used in every state. Our bill bans all political and ideological litmus tests — whether “patriotism” or “social justice” — for admission, hiring, promotion, and tenure.

Click below to read it:

I expect that people will now say that “FIRE has gone right-wing”, since DEI statements are, after all, a product of the “progressive” left, and those who oppose them are often tarred with the label of “alt-right” or even “racist”. But you have to realize what a diversion from the mission of universities DEI statements—or any pledge to an ideology—are.  They force people to think in a certain way rather than question “received wisdom”, and they use colleges as levers to promote political platforms. FIRE is simply adhering to its goals of promoting intellectual and academic freedom in colleges, both of which are violated by ideological pledges or tests of suitability for admission.

You can read the proposed intellectual freedom act here or by clicking the screenshot above. It has the usual format of a bill: preceded with a number of “WHEREAS” statements (the rationales), followed by “resolved” statements (the proposed laws themselves). I’ll give just a few of each. Note below how many supposedly liberal professors favor DEI statements.

The “Whereas”s (this is just a sample):

WHEREAS many colleges and universities require or invite current and/or prospective faculty to demonstrate their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), often through a written statement that factors into hiring, reappointment, evaluation, promotion, or tenure decisions; and

WHEREAS vague or ideologically motivated DEI statement policies can too easily function as litmus tests for adherence to prevailing ideological views on DEI, penalize faculty or applicants for holding dissenting opinions on matters of public concern, and, as the Supreme Court warned against in Keyishian, “cast a pall of orthodoxy” over our public college and university campuses; and

WHEREAS a survey by the American Association of University Professors of hundreds of colleges and universities found that more than one-fifth of higher education institutions include DEI criteria in tenure standards, and of the institutions that do not include tenure standards, nearly half indicated they are considering adding such criteria in the future; and

WHEREAS a survey by the American Enterprise Institute of academic job postings found that nearly 20 percent required DEI statements. . .

It goes on to note that data presented at a conference at USC last year showed that most tenure-track faculty have already disfavored a job candidate when their DEI statement didn’t adhere to the preferred ideology, and adds this chilling paragraph:

WHEREAS according to a forthcoming FIRE survey, faculty are split evenly on whether DEI statements are a justifiable requirement for a university job (50%) or are an ideological litmus test that violates academic freedom (50%), and three-in-four liberal faculty support mandatory diversity statements while 90% of conservative faculty and 56% of moderate faculty see them as political litmus tests. . .

Not surprising, given that “liberal” faculty have recently abandoned the free speech that once characterized liberalism. They are no longer liberals, but authoritarians.

The proposed law: The first two stipulations below (there are eight more) are what I see as the most important out of the 12 given; note that they ban any ideological pledge, not just those related to DEI.

A. No public institution of higher education shall condition admission or benefits to an applicant for admission, or hiring, reappointment, or promotion to a faculty member, on the applicant’s or faculty member’s pledging allegiance to or making a statement of personal support for or opposition to any political ideology or movement, including a pledge or statement regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, patriotism, or related topics, nor shall any institution request or require any such pledge or statement from an applicant or faculty member.

B. If a public institution of higher education receives a pledge or statement describing a commitment to any particular political ideology or movement, including a pledge or statement regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, patriotism, or related topics, it may not grant or deny admission or benefits to a student, or hiring, reappointment, or promotion to a faculty member, on the basis of the viewpoints expressed in the pledge or statement.

C. Nothing in this Act prohibits an institution from requiring a student, professor, or employee to comply with federal or state law, including anti-discrimination laws, or from taking action against a student, professor, or employee for violations of federal or state law.

D. Nothing in this Act shall be construed to limit or restrict the academic freedom of faculty or to prevent faculty members from teaching, researching, or writing publications about diversity, equity, inclusion, patriotism, or other topics.

Now let’s not fool ourselves: this bill, while admirable in every way, has a snowball’s chance in hell of passing. Perhaps it could in the conservative states of the South and Southwest, but not in more liberal states, which happen to be those harboring schools that need these laws the most.  But I applaud FIRE for confecting this proposed legislation, and hope that, because it promotes free speech at the expense of ideological manipulation, it passes somewhere.

8 thoughts on “FIRE drafts a model “intellectual freedom protection act” for states

  1. What is often called the “woke industrial complex” (including DEI Inc.) is now pervasive, powerful, and very lucrative indeed; according to a recent piece at the Philadelphia Inquirer by Jonathan Zimmerman (“DEI Programs Are a Bad Idea”), the VP and assistant for DEI at UCF are paid nearly half a million per annum.

  2. It is worth reading through all the material from FIRE. Professor Faggen was told he could play the recording of Lowell reading “For the Union Dead”, but was prohibited from discussion involving his own uttering the n-word, —- but we should note that the student had objected even to the playing of the recording. This is quite close in spirit to the events at Hamline. Sensitive students think they should not hear (in this case) or see (in the Hamline case) works of art with potential to upset them. The poem in the Faggen case is not just a Civil-Rights-era poem, but one of the most important poems of a great twentieth century poet.

  3. That “three-in-four liberal faculty support mandatory diversity statements” is certainly
    discouraging. Like many WEITers, I long subscribed to the vaguely Leftish social-democratic principles that are mislabeled “liberal” in the US. But when an experiment
    gives the same result a sufficient number of times, it is hard to avoid some rethinking.

    Maybe it is not really a historical accident that Erich Honecker’s Socialist Unity Party in East Germany, Nicolas Maduro’s Unified Socialist Party in Venezuela, and president-for-life Daniel Ortega of the Nicaraguan Sandinista Party, all follow the same script. We used to exculpate the first of these as a result of the singular, malign phenomenon that the Russian Empire’s “Socialist” phase situated it nominally on the “Left”. But the second two examples are independent of the USSR phenomenon. Maybe there is an unavoidable, natural connection between the Left’s claim to possess a complete theory of human social organization, and the Left’s constantly repeated imposition of dictatorships of one kind or another—dictatorship of holy DEI being only the latest, slightly ridiculous manifestation.

  4. I like this move. Statehouses seem to be a bit more conservative, so some of them may be willing to entertain such a law. But even if they don’t, the FIRE statute puts something sensible and concrete on the table for people to discuss. Let’s see how much press attention it gets. Even CNN has been having some conversations about “wokeness” lately, particularly Alisyn Camerota on her nightly show (hers seems, at least temporarily, to have superseded Laura Coates). I’ve heard Camerota push back on the crazies several times lately.

  5. “I expect that people will now say that “FIRE has gone right-wing…”

    The ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center will soon brand FIRE a hate group.

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